Trump's Labor secretary refuses to resign after criticism of the lenient plea deal he negotiated with accused sex trafficker Jeffery Epstein

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta testifies during a hearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

  • Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta publicly addressed his involvement in the lenient plea deal with accused child rapist and New York billionaire Jeffrey Epstein on Wednesday, pushing back on calls for his resignation.
  • Acosta said his "relationship with the president is outstanding" and that he still has strong support from the White House.
  • Acosta reportedly held the press conference at President Donald Trump's direction.
  • He made that case that his office stepped in after state prosecutors were "ready to let [Epstein] walk."
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

WASHINGTON - Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta publicly addressed the controversy surrounding his involvement in a plea deal with accused child rapist and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, which President Donald Trump reportedly urged him to do.

Facing mounting pressure to resign, Acosta pushed back on criticism of his conduct prior to helming the Department of Labor.

Acosta's relationship with Epstein has come under intense scrutiny again after federal officials arrested the billionaire on Saturday and charged him with sex trafficking. In 2008, Acosta played a key role in negotiating a lenient plea deal for Epstein while serving as US attorney in Miami.

Read more: Trump's labor secretary who previously cut a plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein says his alleged crimes 'are horrific' amid calls for him to resign

Acosta made the case that in his capacity as US Attorney, his office went after Epstein when state prosecutors were "ready to let him walk."

He suggested the plea deal was better than nothing, placing heavy blame on the state prosecutors, whose alternative "would have been absolutely awful."

Asked if he would broker the same deal with Epstein if it were today, Acosta said, "We live in a very different world. Today's world treats victims very, very differently."

Acosta said his "relationship with the president is outstanding," adding that he still has strong support from the West Wing.

Prominent Democrats have called for Acosta to step down, citing his involvement in the Epstein plea deal as their primary reason.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who over the years has accepted several thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Epstein, called for his resignation in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

"It is now impossible for anyone to have confidence in Secretary Acosta's ability to lead the Department of Labor," Schumer said. "If he refuses to resign, President Trump should fire him. Instead of prosecuting a predator and serial sex trafficker of children, Acosta chose to let him off easy. This is not acceptable."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "The plea agreement that Acosta reached with Epstein not only gave Epstein a light sentence for the heinous crime of trafficking underage girls, it also violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act - of which I was the author - by not informing Epstein's victims of the deal."

"It's my belief that Alex Acosta should resign his position as Labor Secretary," she noted.

Scrutiny of Acosta's involvement is far from over

In addition, House Democrats are planning to haul Acosta in for a hearing to discuss the plea deal.

In a Wednesday letter to Acosta, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee Chairman Jamie Raskin informed Acosta the hearing "will examine your actions as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in authorizing a non-prosecution agreement for Jeffrey Epstein, as well as the finding by a federal court that you violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by keeping this non-prosecution agreement secret from the victims of Mr. Epstein's crimes."

Read more: The prosecutor who helped cut Jeffrey Epstein's ultra-lenient plea deal for sex crimes is now Trump's labor secretary

"Your testimony is even more critical now that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York unsealed a new indictment earlier this week outlining a host of additional charges against Mr. Epstein, including luring dozens of teenage girls to his homes in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, and paying them to engage in sexual activity with him," they added.

It is unclear whether Acosta will accept the invite to testify.

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